No Mortal is Ever Free: Reading Euripides’ “Hecuba” Online

Euripides, Hecuba 1-2

“I have come from the hidden places of corpses, darkness’ gates,
Once I left the place where Hades lives separate from the gods.
I am Polydorus, a child of Hecuba, the daughter of Kisseus,
And my father was Priam who sent me to this Phrygian city
When danger pressed upon us with a Greek spear.
Because he was afraid he sent me from the Trojan land
To the home of his guest friend Polymestor.”

Ἥκω νεκρῶν κευθμῶνα καὶ σκότου πύλας
λιπών, ἵν᾿ Ἅιδης χωρὶς ᾤκισται θεῶν,
Πολύδωρος, Ἑκάβης παῖς γεγὼς τῆς Κισσέως
Πριάμου τε πατρός, ὅς μ᾿, ἐπεὶ Φρυγῶν πόλιν
κίνδυνος ἔσχε δορὶ πεσεῖν Ἑλληνικῷ,
δείσας ὑπεξέπεμψε Τρωικῆς χθονὸς
Πολυμήστορος πρὸς δῶμα Θρῃκίου ξένου

The Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ with discussion and interpretation during our time of isolation and social distancing. As Paul O’Mahony, whose idea this whole thing was said in an earlier blog post, Since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.

Each week we select scenes from a play, actors and experts from around the world, and put them all together for 90 minutes or so to see what will happen. This process is therapeutic for us; and it helps us think about how tragedy may have had similar functions in the ancient world as well.

Euripides’ Hecuba was performed in 424 BCE during the first part of the Peloponnesian War in a period when Athens and Sparta had both suffered reversals. The play tells the story of Hecuba coming to terms with the deaths of her children Polyxena and Polydoros after the end of the Trojan War and before her own death. Euripides’ use of both characters exemplifies well his adaptation of myth: Polyxena’s sacrifice on Achilles’ grave is only one part of a revenge fantasy that has Hecuba plotting the murder of her son’s killer, Polymestor. In the Homeric tradition, Polydoros is Priam’s bastard son. But Euripides’ play maximizes on the appearance of the child’s ghost and the rage of a woman at the end of a disastrous war.Hecuba

Homer, Iliad 20.407-418

“Then Achilles charged with his spear at godlike Polydoros,
Priam’s son. His father did not want him to fight at all
Because he was the youngest of his children
And was dearest to him: he could beat everyone with his feet
And he was foolishly showing off the excellence of his speed
As he raced through the fighters in front, until he lost his life.
Shining, swift-footed Achilles struck him right in the middle of the back
As he tried to leap past, in that place where the belt’s golden buckle
Comes together and the double-thick tunic meets.
The tip of the spear drove straight through to his navel
And he fell to his knees with a groan as a grey cloud
Overshadowed him. He fell forward holding his bowels in his hands.”

αὐτὰρ ὃ βῆ σὺν δουρὶ μετ’ ἀντίθεον Πολύδωρον
Πριαμίδην. τὸν δ’ οὔ τι πατὴρ εἴασκε μάχεσθαι,
οὕνεκά οἱ μετὰ παισὶ νεώτατος ἔσκε γόνοιο,
καί οἱ φίλτατος ἔσκε, πόδεσσι δὲ πάντας ἐνίκα
δὴ τότε νηπιέῃσι ποδῶν ἀρετὴν ἀναφαίνων
θῦνε διὰ προμάχων, εἷος φίλον ὤλεσε θυμόν.
τὸν βάλε μέσσον ἄκοντι ποδάρκης δῖος ᾿Αχιλλεὺς
νῶτα παραΐσσοντος, ὅθι ζωστῆρος ὀχῆες
χρύσειοι σύνεχον καὶ διπλόος ἤντετο θώρηξ·
ἀντικρὺ δὲ διέσχε παρ’ ὀμφαλὸν ἔγχεος αἰχμή,
γνὺξ δ’ ἔριπ’ οἰμώξας, νεφέλη δέ μιν ἀμφεκάλυψε
κυανέη, προτὶ οἷ δ’ ἔλαβ’ ἔντερα χερσὶ λιασθείς.

 Homer, Iliad 22. 46-48

“I do not see the two boys Lykaon and Polydoros,
At all here in the city of the Trojans,
Those boys whom Laothoê, mistress of women, bore me.”

καὶ γὰρ νῦν δύο παῖδε Λυκάονα καὶ Πολύδωρον
οὐ δύναμαι ἰδέειν Τρώων εἰς ἄστυ ἀλέντων,
τούς μοι Λαοθόη τέκετο κρείουσα γυναικῶν.

Scenes (From this translation)

59-97: Hecuba
177-443: Hecuba, Polyxena, Chorus, Odysseus
953-1295: Polymestor, Chorus, Hecuba, Agamemnon

Euripides, Hecuba 130-135

“The passion of the debate burned equally
On both sides, until that craft-minded
Criminal, the sweet-talking salesman of the people
The son of Laertes persuaded the army
Not to reject the best of all the Danaans
Over slaughtered slaves…”

σπουδαὶ δὲ λόγων κατατεινομένων
ἦσαν ἴσαι πως, πρὶν ὁ ποικιλόφρων
κόπις ἡδυλόγος δημοχαριστὴς
Λαερτιάδης πείθει στρατιὰν
μὴ τὸν ἄριστον Δαναῶν πάντων
δούλων σφαγίων οὕνεκ᾿ ἀπωθεῖν,

Actors

Hecuba – Eunice Roberts
Polyxena – Evelyn Miller
Chorus – Tamieka Chavis
Odysseus – Tajh Bellow
Polymestor – Tim Delap
Agamemnon – Carlos Bellato

Special Guest: Toph Marshall

Dramaturgical assistance: Emma Pauly

Direction: Paul O’Mahony

Posters: John Koelle

Technical, Moral, Administrative Support: Lanah Koelle, Allie Mabry, Janet Ozsolak, Helene Emeriaud, Sarah Scott, Keith DeStone

 Neoptolemus sacrificing Polyxena after the capture of Troy. Attic black-figure Tyrrhenian amphora, ca. 570-550 BC.

Euripides, Hecuba 369-378 [Polyxena speaking]

“Ok, then, take me Odysseus, take me to die.
For I see no little hope or expectation here
That I will ever live well at all.
Mother, don’t put any kind of obstacle in my way
By saying anything, by doing anything. Share my plan
To die before meeting some shame I don’t deserve
Someone who is unaccustomed to facing troubles
Endures them but it hurts to bend the neck to the yoke.
One like this who dies is much luckier than being alive:
For not living well is terrible toil.”

ἄγ᾿ οὖν μ᾿, Ὀδυσσεῦ, καὶ διέργασαί μ᾿ ἄγων·
οὔτ᾿ ἐλπίδος γὰρ οὔτε του δόξης ὁρῶ
θάρσος παρ᾿ ἡμῖν ὥς ποτ᾿ εὖ πρᾶξαί με χρή.
μῆτερ, σὺ δ᾿ ἡμῖν μηδὲν ἐμποδὼν γένῃ
λέγουσα μηδὲ δρῶσα, συμβούλου δέ μοι
θανεῖν πρὶν αἰσχρῶν μὴ κατ᾿ ἀξίαν τυχεῖν.
ὅστις γὰρ οὐκ εἴωθε γεύεσθαι κακῶν
φέρει μέν, ἀλγεῖ δ᾿ αὐχέν᾿ ἐντιθεὶς ζυγῷ·
θανὼν δ᾿ ἂν εἴη μᾶλλον εὐτυχέστερος
ἢ ζῶν· τὸ γὰρ ζῆν μὴ καλῶς μέγας πόνος.

Euripides, Hecuba 159-168

“Who defends me? What family do I have?
What kind of city? The old man is gone.
Our children are gone.
What kind of path do I take?
This one? That one? Where would I be saved?
Where is there some god or spirit to help?
Trojan women who have endured evils,
Oh, the evil pains you’ve gone through,
You are dead, you have killed—
A life in the light no longer surprises me.”

τίς ἀμύνει μοι; ποία γενεά,
ποία δὲ πόλις; φροῦδος πρέσβυς,
φροῦδοι παῖδες.
ποίαν ἢ ταύταν ἢ κείναν
στείχω; ποῖ δὴ σωθῶ; ποῦ τις
θεῶν ἢ δαίμων ἐπαρωγός;
ὦ κάκ᾿ ἐνεγκοῦσαι
Τρῳάδες, ὦ κάκ᾿ ἐνεγκοῦσαι
πήματ᾿, ἀπωλέσατ᾿ ὠλέσατ
βίος ἀγαστὸς ἐν φάει.

Upcoming Readings (Go here for the project page)

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, July 1st

Euripides, Andromache, July 8

Aristophanes, Clouds, July 15

Euripides, Alcestis, July 22

Hecuba Kill Kill
An alternate poster by John Koelle

Euripides, Hecuba 864-871

“Ha!
No one who is mortal is free—
We are either the slave of money or chance;
Or the majority of people or the city’s laws
Keep us from living by our own judgment.
Since you feel fear and bend to the masses,
I will make you free of fear:
Understand anything wicked I plan against
My son’s murderer, but don’t help me do it.”

φεῦ.
οὐκ ἔστι θνητῶν ὅστις ἔστ᾿ ἐλεύθερος·
ἢ χρημάτων γὰρ δοῦλός ἐστιν ἢ τύχης
ἢ πλῆθος αὐτὸν πόλεος ἢ νόμων γραφαὶ
εἴργουσι χρῆσθαι μὴ κατὰ γνώμην τρόποις.
ἐπεὶ δὲ ταρβεῖς τῷ τ᾿ ὄχλῳ πλέον νέμεις,
ἐγώ σε θήσω τοῦδ᾿ ἐλεύθερον φόβου.
σύνισθι μὲν γάρ, ἤν τι βουλεύσω κακὸν
τῷ τόνδ᾿ ἀποκτείναντι, συνδράσῃς δὲ μή.

Videos of Earlier Sessions (Go here for the project page)
Euripides’ Helen, March 25th
Sophocles’ Philoktetes, April 1st
Euripides’ Herakles, April 8th
Euripides’ Bacchae, April 15th
Euripides’ Iphigenia , April 22nd
Sophocles, Trachinian Women, April 29th
Euripides, Orestes May 6th
Aeschylus, Persians, May 13th
Euripides, Trojan Women May 20th
Sophocles’ Ajax, May 27th
Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos, June 10th

Euripides, Ion,  June 17th

Euripides, Hecuba 1187-1194

“Agamemnon, it’s not right for people
To possess tongues stronger than deeds.
If someone has done good things, then they ought to speak well
If they do wretched things, well, their words are rotten to,
And they are incapable of ever speaking of injustice well.
Wise are those who have become masters of precise speech!
But they cannot be wise all the way to the end.
They all die terribly. There’s no escape from that.”

Ἀγάμεμνον, ἀνθρώποισιν οὐκ ἐχρῆν ποτε
τῶν πραγμάτων τὴν γλῶσσαν ἰσχύειν πλέον·
ἀλλ᾿ εἴτε χρήστ᾿ ἔδρασε, χρήστ᾿ ἔδει λέγειν,
εἴτ᾿ αὖ πονηρά, τοὺς λόγους εἶναι σαθρούς,
καὶ μὴ δύνασθαι τἄδικ᾿ εὖ λέγειν ποτέ.
σοφοὶ μὲν οὖν εἰσ᾿ οἱ τάδ᾿ ἠκριβωκότες,
ἀλλ᾿ οὐ δύνανται διὰ τέλους εἶναι σοφοί,
κακῶς δ᾿ ἀπώλοντ᾿· οὔτις ἐξήλυξέ πω.

Leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s